Stanislav Szukalski: Reminiscences

— Stanislav Szukalski

Stanislav Szukalski signed Mukul Dey’s book on December 3, 1916. Nandalal Bose also signes on the same date later
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
Chicago 1916

When I was twenty-two years old, living close to the University of Chicago, on 57th Street and Jackson Park, I received a letter from Mrs. Moody, the widow of the founder of the Moody Institute of Bible Interpretations. I was startled, since theological matters were a sphere of speculation I refrained from being involved with, having been brought up in Poland where religiosity stifles the very breath of Polonism, which for me took the place of any other concern whatsoever.

Receiving my affirmation to her question if I knew who Tagore was, she informed me that he was eager to meet me, and would I therefore come to dinner on a certain evening? I eagerly accepted the invitation. Rabindranath Tagore, being the richest man in his native Calcutta, had presented it with his Santiniketan, a vast university which included polytechnical, medical, agricultural and cultural institutes. As the most spiritual poet of India, he had received a Nobel Award and, in Britain, elevation into knighthood.

He was a white-haired, elderly man with a soft voice that he, like many Hindus, used in a rather high pitch (which I thought was due to weak larynx muscles, spending days in silent meditation). One of the purposes of his trip, besides lecturing, was to raise funds for the building of a hospital for the victims of elephantiasis, for which purpose the Moody house was temporarily his. After the first visit, I was invited many times to see him.

In his company was also a student of Santiniketan, Mukul Chandra Dey, a youth slightly younger than I. He showed me some of his small drawings, with which I was singularly impressed. The older gentleman was rather displeased that Mukul insisted on going to Paris to finish his study.

Though I had never been to Paris at the time, I held views uncomplimentary to that center of Art. Those were the years of brainwashing of the public of every nation, from Russia via Italy to the USA, into artificial ecstasy about the droolings of Kandinsky and Picasso, which I, while still a student at the Krakovian Academy, recognized as the veiled intent to DESTROY our Culture. (Much later I read that Lenin had indeed commanded his ideological underlings that In order to control the society of every nation, we must first CONTROL Art everywhere!

A little pencil drawing by Stanislav Szukalski, Chicago 1916
Photo: Mukul Dey Archives
Thus, the press was coerced into raving about everything in Art that depraved it and thereby nullify it) In Paris, the Art Schools had introduced a new manner of accepting students. Instead of being subjected to examinations, all candidates were accepted, as long as they could afford the tuition. Thus, it happened that all the worthless human misfits, after having failed in their own countries, found their haven in the French metropolis, eventually to cosmopolitize it out of existence as world leader.

Mukul had fought off Tagore s attempts at dissuading him from going to the Mecca of all failures, finally being allowed to accompany him to America, on his way to France. At that time I did not know of Tagore’s attempts, but advised Mukul to return to Calcutta, develop his own Art as a HINDU to a higher degree and first become renowned as an artist of India.

You are already a fine artist, but with your silly anticipation of finding miraculous Culture in Europe, you will swallow as a new religion any pseudo-movement, any Ism of the misfits who abuse painting and sculpture with combs, forks and brushes stuck in their noses to give an easy semblance of individuality. Later come to Europe, with enough belief in yourself to look upon European Decadence with CONTEMPT and the ability to select really worthy examples of Art from all ages and Cultures.

My arguments persuaded Mukul to return to Santiniketan. Tagore, overwhelmed with pleasure, called me to see him as soon as I would. Through the weeks of our numerous meetings, he knew of my attitude towards Art pedagogy, my contemptuous view of Art critics, whom I regarded as the carriers of the Modernist Plague, and my unorthodox definitions of all established views.

Almost immediately after I entered the room where several friends of Tagore had assembled, he said: I am convinced that you indeed are a natural pedagogue, and because of your intrinsic interest in the development of my pupil into a great artist, I decided that you should reorganize my Santiniketan. My son, Abanindranath, the greatest artist of India, will assist you. Will you agree to come to Calcutta?

Without a moment’s hesitation, I agreed and he embraced me. This was an unprecedented honor bestowed by the great poet. I had associated with Hindus for some time and always longed to visit their Civilization of ages past. The dream was not to be fulfilled, however.

The British Consulate had heard about my Vagabond Club where the most brilliant intellectuals of Chicago assembled and exchanged views. I was always contemptuous of nations that amassed vast Empires on which to parasite and, though the Hindu Culture interested me, I recoiled from its out-of-outer-world introspections and constant meditations. Consequently my reputation as a Wonder Youth with shocking views had preceded me to the British Consulate and it refused me the granting of a visa.

If I had kept my inconvenient opinions to myself, the Council would not have heard of me. But then, I might have been less popular and i might not have been invited to the suppers I otherwise rarely ate, and my thunderous thinking might have been mistaken for the grumblings of my forlorn stomach, and people would have shunned away from me.

On one of his visits to my small apartment, I made this much-over-life-size portrait of Tagore and offered it to him as a gift. Later he had it copied by a sculptor in Calcutta, and presently it is a permanent monument to him inside the Santiniketan.

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